Saturday, December 10th - Everyone has said that the sea conditions in the Drake Passage are either tranquil or a tempest with no middle ground. When it’s calm, sailors call the Passage “Drake Lake.”
The day began with some early morning bird watching on the stern of Le Boreal. Numerous pelagic birds could be seen soaring above the Le Boreal’s wake. I have been captivated by the amazing life cycle of the wandering albatross ever since reading Carl Safina’s book, “Eye of the Albatross.”
A&K staff member Dr. Patricia Silva gave a fascinating presentation on the birds we are seeing, many that have the largest wingspans of any bird on earth. These pictures don’t do the albatross and petrel justice. Dr. Silva said radio telemetry devices have shown that these birds can travel more than 10,000 miles in a single outing that may last months or years. They are perfectly suited for maximizing the low level air currents above cresting waves. Albatrosses are simply stunning birds that are being threatened today by plastics in the ocean and longline fishing.
Another animal that scientists are learning about through the use of satellite tracking tags are orcas. Shortly before lunch the captain announced a pod of orcas was spotted behind the boat. He was giving everyone a chance to grab photo equipment while he brought the vessel back around for a closer look. Charley Wheatley, the on-board marine mammal expert, gave everyone an impromptu orca lesson while at least ten “killer whales” went about their business. This was said to be a very unusual sighting. Normally orcas are not seen this far north or this early in the season. Perhaps they were returning from a spa treatment.